Going into this upcoming season with two Dineen Cup titles and four Founders Cup (regular season championship) wins under their belt, there’s no denying that players, fans, and really the entire NCDC, are expecting big things from the Jersey Hitmen.
One of the main challenges this year is having only four returning players. Head Coach Toby Harris has said that the team is well-proportioned in terms of skill and speed.
“What we have this year is a good puzzle – we have all the pieces and it’s up to the coaching staff to make the picture,” said Harris, who works hand in hand with Hitmen President and Associate Coach Jim Hunt on the bench.
Their main concern is being patient and working on details with their newer players.
“Taking the time to do video sessions, stop drills, really hammering home what to do in certain situations,” said Harris. “Get guys up to speed with a lot of drills. We do things differently, we stop talk about what to see to make it more commonplace.”
The returners this year have been described by Harris as “really strong leaders.
“These are guys that know how to win and don’t forget it,” he added.
Michael DiPietra, an ‘02 forward, is in his fourth season of NCDC hockey. He scored 35 points in 49 games and also contributed a goal (in the Dineen Cup finals) and an assist in seven playoff games. Vincent Gould (‘03 forward) also scored a goal in the playoffs and also had 14 goals during the 2021-22 regular season en route to the Cup win.
Cody Sealey, an ‘02 defenseman, played in 31 games last year with the Hitmen and lifted the Dineen Cup after playing in all seven playoff games. He will start the season on the injured reserve, however.
J.J. Cataldo, an ‘03 goaltender, put up an 11-4-2 record and a .919 save percentage last year with the Hitmen, before adding two more playoff victories to contribute to the championship run.
Milan Cermak, an ‘02 who comes in with prior year USHL experience, is hoping for a full season this year after missing most of the 2021-22 season. He had one assist in his four games with the Hitmen.
With just these four hitting the ice as veterans in 2022-23, that leaves the Hitmen with several players seeing either the NCDC or at least their system for the first time ever.
Tyler McNeil (‘02) comes in after scoring 95 points in an All-Star season with the USPHL Premier’s Fresno Monsters. According to Coach Harris, McNeil has translated well into the Hitmen’s style already.
Nick Ahern returns for his third NCDC season overall after playing last year in the NAHL. The ‘02 forward is “a great 1-on-1 player who has been making a ton of plays.”
Watch for big things coming from Drew Tsakounis, an ‘03 defenseman already committed to Penn State University. He is fast and a very elite skater, keeping with a trademark of past Hitmen squads.
Harris said that the Hitmen’s expectations are the same this season.
“Every time (it is) to win a championship – that mindset will never change. Never will,” said Harris. “We always prep mentally and physically. We recruit guys who are leaders.”
While having high expectations, Harris knows there won’t be any easy wins.
“Every game is a challenge. All NCDC coaches know what it takes to win. We know every game is a dogfight,” he added
Their first game this season proves just that. They will be taking on the first-year Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Knights this Friday.
“We will go into the game playing our style and our game until we see what they have planned out,” added Harris.